Mobile networks operating in the UK will be banned from selling locked phones from December 2021.
Having a locked phone means that service is only given on a specific network. For an unlocked service, the customer is usually charged around £10 to allow it to work on any network.
Networks who operate in the UK have previously suggested that locking devices help to prevent and deter theft and fraud. However, several companies have already abandoned the practice.
Among the companies selling unlocked devices are O2, Sky, Three and Virgin. The ban will, however, affect EE, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile, who still sell locked devices.
Regulator Ofcom told the BBC that unlocking devices could often prove to be a complicated process and was therefore discouraging when the owners of these devices want to change their service providers when their contracts come to an end.
In addition, when paying to unlock their devices, a study by Ofcom said that half of the customers experience a loss of service or other connectivity issues. Other issues include extended delays in receiving a code to activate the process, and then also discovering that the code sent does not work.
Many of the service provider’s customers do not realise that they possess a locked device, which is the leading cause of a loss in service upon attempts to switch providers.
Introducing the ban means that service providers in the UK will now be compliant with European rules. Ofcom told the BBC they were already looking into the problem before these rules and regulations were brought into standard practice across the EU in 2018.
In addition to the locked handsets ban, there are also several other new rules to be introduced. By the end of December 2021, providers will be obliged to provide all communications in accessible formats such as braille, upon request. In June 2022, customers will have more of a right to switch providers if changes are made to deals that they were unaware of before signing their contracts. Also, by June 2022, a clear summary of a contract has to be shown to customers before they sign.
Changes are set for the broadband industry, too.
Ofcom has asked the industry to end all discrepancies when customers want to switch suppliers, to make the process easier and less costly.
For example, those who want to switch from a supplier using BT’s Openreach network to another provider must contact their preferred supplier who will sort out the switch. This, however, is not the case if customers want to move from a BT line to Virgin Media, for example. In these cases, the customer must do everything themselves.
Ofcom is bringing in these rules, having previously asked the industry to design a solution, which it failed to do.